Some fiction writers outline, others don’t. I think it’s a matter of temperament. Strategists outline while more impulsive writers simply write. I think outlining has undeniable benefits, especially for young writers whose voice is quavering and who don’t yet have a clear sense of direction, those who, without a map, are likely to get lost in the abysmal whiteness of the blank page.
For my part, I can say that whether I chose to outline or not depends on what I’m writing, and on how long and complex it is. A short story doesn’t need an outline. But a 300-pages novel does.
I believe that outlining is crucial when it comes to writing non-fiction, because then thoughts must be well-organized so that the writing is concise. Stories, however, can be vague, and there are many cases when vagueness makes the narrative more interesting. Think of Chekhov’s short stories and of Kafka’s novels. And think of my 50-word tales too.
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
― John Steinbeck
The strongest argument against outlining is that it shackles the imagination. But is that true? Does the knowledge that you’re going to die someday – an outline of life that you sketch in your mind from a tender age – take the enjoyment out of your life? Far from it. It gives you goals and a purpose.
I feel more restricted when I write a something long without an outline. Anything can happen then, and that scares me, because too many choices are as bad as no choice at all. My imagination becomes constipated, and as I stare at the blank page, I realize it is defeating me.
“I write to discover what I know.”― Flannery O’Connor
I don’t know what I think until I’ve written it. Outlining actually helps with this. It does not stiffen creation but encourages it, by giving me a direction, and a purpose. Although I know where I am bound to, I don’t know where I will end up, nor what will happen to me on the way. Without an outline I am more likely to halt and scratch my head, not knowing what to do next.
“Adventure is just bad planning.”― Roald Amundsen
Outlining shouldn’t be overdone though. Too much outlining will be as limiting as no outlining at all. Writing is an art, not a science. Good writing is often done without too much reasoning.
I think reasoning is dangerous, not only when it comes to writing, but to life in general, and relying too much on it is placing too much confidence on our species, which frankly, not so long ago dwelt in trees. Reasoning is, has been, and will be the cause of great evil in the world. Let us recall the Holocaust…
Do you outline?